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There are several foolproof tests for an ignoramus. Spending your life’s savings on Powerball tickets is one. Honoring an email request that opens with “Dearest One” and asks for a hefty loan in fractured English is another.
As we mark the first full week of Donald Trump’s second year in office, we have another indication of intractable stupidity: crowing about how Trump won the election and liberals need to get over it. You can find such sentiments (to cite just one example) on this site’s comment threads following columns that are critical of the president.
Trump-ish triumphalism betrays buffoonery for a simple reason. Any general knows the difference between winning a battle and winning the war. The drunken euphoria over November 2016 has left many Trump voters too tipsy to see the evidence that their side is forfeiting the war for the future. Whatever Trump’s personal prospects in 2020, and his party’s prospects in November’s midterms, if Trumpism and the GOP were patients, they’d be on suicide watch now.
Trump lost the popular vote in 2016, hardly a promising springboard to re-election. That might matter less if he’d spent more time in his first year addressing real problems and less time potty-mouthing immigrants and throwing in with his party’s ossified plutocrats in Congress. He chose otherwise. Meanwhile, said plutocrats repay his support for their supply-side tax cuts by shelving conservatives’ traditional concern for manners and civility, accepting a thug in the Oval Office.
The result: Millennials and people of color, the voters of the future, are finding the GOP radioactively unsupportable. If you back the president and think the foregoing point is just sour grapes from a Never Trumper, you should stop reading now. There’s survey evidence corroborating Republicans’ long-term peril.
Online pollster SurveyMonkey asked more than 600,000 Americans last year their view of Trump. The results, in line with other polls, showed more people disapproving of the president’s job than approving. But it was the breakdown of who precisely approves and disapproves that’s revealing.
SurveyMonkey found that, among most white Millennials, disapproval of Trump runs a staggering 62 to 76 percent. Among white male Millennials without college, part of his base, Trump’s approval-disapproval rates were an underwhelming 49-49 tie.
Overwhelming majorities of African-Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance. Among Hispanics, his highest approvals come from men over 50; among Hispanic women of all age groups, he’s toxic.
In short, Trump hasn’t solved the demographic dilemma that troubled Republican pollster Whit Ayres even before the billionaire declared his candidacy: “Groups that form the core of GOP support — older whites, blue-collar whites, married people and rural residents — are declining as a proportion of the electorate. Groups that lean Democratic — minorities, young people and single women — are growing.”
For now, many white voters fear the inevitable browning of America. That fact, plus Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings and the idiosyncrasy of the Electoral College, handed Trump victory. But SurveyMonkey found that his antics last year cost him support among two groups that were critical to his 2016 coalition.
That year, 66 percent of whites without college degrees voted for him, but his first year in office shaved 10 points off that support. Meanwhile, white voters with four years of college gave the Donald 48 percent of their votes two years ago. Now, just 40 percent approve of him.
If current events suggest Trump’s movement doesn’t have legs, so does history. Some analysts see the 45th president’s supporters as revanchists seeking territory lost by the 19th-century Know-Nothings, xenophobes who won congressional and gubernatorial elections but not the presidency. The Irish and other immigrants they sought to keep out of America came nonetheless and assimilated despite the haters. Know-Nothing-ism hit its expiration date quickly.
Others compare Trump’s minions to those of segregationist George Wallace. After Wallace lost his third-party presidential bid in 1968, there was no talk of repealing that era’s historic civil rights laws or otherwise accommodating his Jim Crow-loving voters. Wallace’s crusade fell into history’s trash can, too.
The closest analogy is the country’s seventh and first populist president, Andrew Jackson, who like Trump actually captured the White House. A racist’s racist, Jackson owned slaves and signed the law that forcibly cleared Native Americans off their land. Trump adorned not only the Oval Office with his hero’s portrait but also, with pathological insensitivity, an awards ceremony for Native Americans last November.
Jackson’s populist endeavors included abolishing the Bank of the United States, which did long-lasting economic harm, making generations of recessions worse before the Federal Reserve was created in 1913. For the thousands who died during the “Trail of Tears” removal sparked by Jackson’s Native American removals, the president was lethally, permanently effective; they would never see amends.
That tragedy aside, the nation did expunge Jacksonian politics. We abolished slavery, created the Fed, and advanced the (still unfinished) business of civil rights for all.
Like Old Hickory, our current president has done enormous damage: frightening immigrants, succoring white supremacists, obstructing the fight against climate change and inequality. GOP politicians at the state level, unlike their craven counterparts in Congress, distance themselves from Trump, as they’re forced to proclaim, “We’re the Republican Party, but we’re not crazy.”
Those politicians can read the tea leaves in a country that’s decreasingly white and where the young shall inherit the franchise. In the short run, Trump may be elected in 2020 — who knows? — and I believe some analysts may underestimate Republicans’ chances to hold Congress this November. Longer-term, however, Trump’s America, like Jackson’s, cannot survive.
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